Day 5, Sept 10: Lutherstadt Wittenberg to Torgau, 78 km.

Today was another long day of cycling, mostly along fields and, at times, along the Elbe. We both slept horribly at the camping site in Lutherstadt, kept awake by the nearby highway and the lights around the site. The morning was sunny, however, and we went back through the town center on our way to the Elbe River path. This route is certainly popular for cycle touring, and we saw dozens of people touring. We passed through small towns and villages, and stopped to walk through a restored windmill originally built in the 1800s. The path often took us along the back gardens of houses, allowing us to see many extensive plantings, pools, and large vegetable patches.

Midway through the day the wind picked up, and we had a particularly bad section of headwind through an exposed section in between tilled fields. The sun was also very hot, and I only realized at the end of the day that I had gotten heat rash on both legs.

We took a very short ferry across the Elbe mid-day, literally just a hundred feet or so. In the evening we stopped at a church on a hillside in a small town, deciding to go the 23 km further to the next campsite. The evening riding was lovely and mostly along country cycle-only lanes, with birds flying in small flocks from tree to tree along our way, and a few cyclists sharing the path with us. We found ourselves entering Torgau through an industrial area as the path along the Elbe was closed, which some folks in the last town helpfully advised us with gestures and a few words in English. We found our way through the city to a massive grocery shop and then to the camping site at the edge of a small housing area. The jolly camping manager set us up with a spot and coins for the shower, and we spent a dark evening relaxing after another long day.

        

Day 6, Sept. 11: Torgau to Riesa/Gohlis, 63 km.

We woke up to a dewy, humid tent and a slow start to what became a hot day. The field near us was filled with horses, and they seemed already perturbed by the day’s heat. We left the campsite and stopped at the grocery store in town for lunch supplies, then found our way through side roads to the Elberadweg. We were already sweating at 10:00 and spent much of the day hoping for shady spots for breaks. The path, fortunately, did offer many shades sections through small wooded areas. We stopped after only 10 km for a break of orange fizzy water (vitamin tablets you put in water) at the edge of a small pond in a great little picnic shelter.

We stopped for lunch at a small picnic area along the radweg near a man-made lake that is the site of dredging for sand. There we met an older German couple from near Hamburg fixing a flat tire. They were working on patching it as we ate lunch, and they continued along the way before us. Once we finished lunch we circled the lake and then chose to continue down the west side of the Elbe, as the route here split to both banks. After maybe 7 km we again found the same couple, again with a flat on the same tire. The patch had not worked and now was refusing to be mended. Although our tires are different sizes, Shachaf found a way to make one of our spare tubes work on their bike. The couple was also planning to stay in the area of Riesa, so they invited us to meet for drinks in the evening.

For the last part of the day we followed the river, first through fields, then small towns, then suburbs, and finally through industrial Riesa. Here we had some trouble with the path, but found our way eventually down the river path towards the next small town, Gohlis, and a promised camping site. We didn’t see any signs for the camping area, however, which was a little disconcerting, as most camping and pensions in small towns have signs along the radweg. We guessed at the turn and bumped down the rutted dirt path to the small town marked with a camping icon on our map. In town we finally found a sign for the camping site and turned around the edge of an old, abandoned looking building to see some tee-pees. As we stopped to determine if this was indeed a camping area, a man ambled over and greeted us. He said that we could camp here, although this was really mostly a place where they held children’s nature camps. For just a few euros more we could have a small trailer, so we chose that, as we had heard the heat would break tonight with thunder storms.

The camping area is like a little fairytale, with the tall tee-pees, a tree fort, circus-like caravans, the 150-year-old patched together farm building, a huge wooden xylophone, and mandalas made from natural items in the middle of the lawns. The manager said that they had been renting this place for 6 years, trying to piece it back together after being abandoned since reunification. The building was used as a pig farm during the GDR, and few renovations were made during that time due to lack of funds. Now they want to make a cultural center and youth hostel, but also area low on funds. He also tells us about cycling to Prague last year along the Elbe, and how the landscape is much more dramatic after Dresden.

We biked into town to meet the German couple in the central square. We wander with them through the quiet town streets looking for a place for dinner. We finally find a café that is open, and sit for a couple of hours chatting. We hear about their other holidays in the recent years, including to Prague and along the Danube by boat. We bike back to our caravan, with the rain starting in earnest not long after we arrive and soon coming down in buckets.

    

Day 7, Sept. 12: Riesa/Gohlis to Meissen (Meißen), 30 km.

It rained throughout the night, pounding heavily on the top of the caravan. With the storm and in actual beds we slept soundly, waking even later than usual. The manager of the camp area told us that we should stay on this side of the river until Dresden, and also suggested that we stop in Meissen to see the town. The morning was cold, only half of yesterday’s temperature. We suited back up in our colder weather clothes for biking, which we hadn’t used since Denmark. Once moving, however, we warmed up and the day’s temperatures did as well.

The path was largely cycle-only ways right along or near the Elbe throughout the day. Shortly after beginning the landscape changed dramatically, with hills and cliffs alongside the river. The houses seemed to change as well, with more brightly colored buildings lining the river below forested hills and even terraced agricultural plots.

We had meant to go to Dresden today, but the adorable squares and towering castle in Meissen drew us in. After pastries and espresso we decided to visit Albrechtsburg, the huge castle on the town’s central hill and the oldest residential castle in Germany. We found that the town’s information office had a bike locker space, so we could even leave our bikes safely here and walk up the steep hill to tour the castle.

The castle was originally built in the 1400s and 1500s, and the cathedral seems to have been built even earlier. We toured the castle for a couple of hours, climbing through ornately painted rooms with incredible vaulted ceilings 7 meters tall. Although the castle is mostly bereft of furnishings, as it was used for a porcelain manufacturer in the 1800s and then left empty, the displays in the castle tell not only about the life of the nobility, but also the construction of the castle, the local history, and the discovery of the recipe for porcelain manufacture in Germany and the role it played for this area. One king apparently had an obsession with East Asian porcelain, before the recipe for porcelain was discovered in Europe, and he had used Albrechtsburg for housing his East Asian porcelain collection. The castle became too small for the collection, however, and he was in the process of building a new castle specifically for his collection when he died.

After touring through the many levels of the castle, we glanced quickly at a small prayer chamber at the cathedral and headed back down the steep steps to the Marktplatz to retrieve our bikes. We rode the few kilometers along the Elbe route to the fairly empty camping site. A few hunters dressed in all dark green except for neon orange jackets walked through the campground with their dogs, apparently having parked here and then walked into the dense surrounding forest to hunt. We went to the kitchen to cook dinner before we were subjected to watching them return with their prey.

The day remained largely overcast and somewhat chilly, but fortunately there is no rain in the forecast, just cold. I was glad for today being a short day, as the back of my left knee has been hurting at times. Tomorrow also will be a short day, and then we will a day or two of no biking, so hopefully whatever has been hurting will be resolved.

       

 

          

  

Day 8, Sept 13: Meissen to Dresden, 30 km.

We had rain again in the night and drizzle through the morning, so we packed up a wet rain cover to hopefully dry out in our hotel in Dresden. The path from Meissen to Dresden is next to the Elbe and almost entirely cycle-only ways. We saw many people cycling on the path this morning; likely most are on day outings from Dresden as they have light bags or none at all. Sun broke through the clouds as we were packing up camp, so we cycled through chilly sunshine in the fields and villages leading up to Dresden. At the only confusing juncture along the path a friendly German cycle guide pulled back from his group to show us the way as well. We ended up seeing the guide and his group throughout the morning, and they waved happily each time we passed them. We even saw them in the Alt Markt in the center of Dresden, and the guide waved wildly at us, his charges smiling as well.

The path into the city kept us along the river, and we pulled right into the old city from the Elbe. The city itself is gorgeous, with castles, church spires, and museums lining the river and winding streets leading filled with statues, cobblestones, fountains, musicians, and everything one would expect of a classical European city. Dresden, however, is a re-made city – although a small part of the old city is original, the vast majority of the city was destroyed in the Allied fire-bombing of the city in February 1945. The photos of the destruction are haunting and horrible, testaments to the utter terror of war. Some of the old buildings were reconstructed during the GDR, but others have been rebuilt recently – the prominent Frauenkirche sat in ruins for 60 years, rebuilt just in 2005.

In the Alt Markt (Old Market) a sort of harvest festival is taking place, filled mostly with German food stands, incredibly cheesy autumn decorations, and a few fair rides. We stop at the market quickly for food, then head to Starbucks – apparently the only free wifi nearby, according to the information center – to check on a few possible hostels in the city.

What followed included a few hours of cycling around the city without luck in finding available rooms in places with bike storage. We tried to find the pension that the German couple suggested to us a few days ago, but it didn’t seem to have a sign and was also on a slightly sketchy street. The next hostel was fully booked with a school group. We biked across downtown to a massive and Soviet-block-looming hostel that did not have bike storage but did begrudgingly let us use their internet to try and call other hostels. Here we finally had luck, getting in contact with a hostel/hostel to reserve their last room for the night. Although more expensive than we had expected, the hotel turned out to be great and we were happy to just find a place to stay. In the evening we ventured out for dinner at a nearby vegetarian restaurant. Dresden seems to be a vibrant and promising city for spending a few days in. It will be interesting to see how the city’s reconstruction is visible and the ways in which both the bombing and the wider atrocities of the war are remembered here.